Crime

Stanislaus deputies start using body cams: Evidence of ‘what actually occurred’

Body worn cameras to document encounters with the public

Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse talks about the department's body-worn cameras during a demonstration Tuesday April 2, 2019 at the Stanislaus County Sheriff's office in Modesto, Calif.
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Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse talks about the department's body-worn cameras during a demonstration Tuesday April 2, 2019 at the Stanislaus County Sheriff's office in Modesto, Calif.

Sheriff’s deputies in Stanislaus County have started clipping video cameras to their shirts in a bid to enhance trust with the public.

The department Monday began using a technology that has spread through law enforcement in the past few years. Deputies and sergeants have been trained to activate the cameras at the start of any encounter that could turn difficult.

“The body cams provide an evidentiary record of what actually occurred at that incident,” Sheriff Jeff Dirkse said at a demonstration for the media Tuesday.

He was standing in the room at the Hackett Road headquarters where the cameras are stored after each shift. The docking station uploads video clips into storage and recharges the batteries.

The clips could later be used by prosecutors and defense attorneys — and they could help determine whether a complaint against an officer was justified.

The Sheriff’s Department will use the cameras throughout the unincorporated parts of the county and in the cities where it provides police service under contract: Riverbank, Waterford, Hughson and Patterson.

Police departments in Modesto, Ceres and Oakdale already use the cameras. Turlock is “in the process of trying to locate a funding source for the purchase and upkeep of the cameras, as well as the necessary data storage that will be required,” Sgt. Russ Holeman said by email Tuesday.

The Sheriff’s Department has issued cameras to 180 deputies and 30 sergeants. Axon provides the equipment, maintenance and video storage at a monthly cost of about $70 per officer, according to Sgt. Aaron Costello, who helped with the rollout.

The department had done research on using cameras during the tenure of Sheriff Adam Christianson, who retired at the end of 2018. Dirkse said they were a high priority when he took office three months ago.

“Quite frankly, I think that our profession requires them, and I think that the public expects them at this point,” he said.

Users are advised to wear the cameras between the collarbone and navel. They provide a wide-angle view that can be monitored on an officer’s smart phone.

The department added a policy to its employee manual to cover body cams. Officers do not have to get consent from people being recorded if they are in a public place, or on private property where they are “engaged in the performance of official duties.”

The policy also says video clips are exempt from a state law that mandates release of most public records to the media or other interested parties. The sheriff can make an exception “in specific instances when it is determined that such release will best serve the public interest.”

State law requires video storage for 180 days to 10 years, depending on the nature of the case. The 10-year rule applies to sexual assaults.

The cameras arrive as the Sheriff’s Department and other law-enforcement agencies are adding officers thanks to increased funding.

“We are excited to have them,” said Sgt. Josh Clayton, a sheriff’s spokesman. “We think they are going to bring transparency to our department.”

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